A game of two bottles

A game of two bottles

Richard Halstead, region director for EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation samples wines from the old and new worlds for BQ.

There are some aspects to my job that are more enjoyable than others and being asked to drink a couple of bottles of wine in my role as region director for EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, was certainly an aspect I looked forward to. When asked which wines I liked I quickly chose Chateauneuf du Pape and a nice Chablis or Sancerre and headed off to Connelly’s Wine Merchants to see what awaited me.

The red hailed from the same Southern Rhone region as Chateauneuf, but instead of a blend of 13 different varieties of grapes is made from 100% Syrah. As a man fond of my whisky this appeals to me, sounding like a single malt instead of the more common blended variety. Plus this wine has a fascinating history.

Domaine de La Bastide hails from a small village called Visan in the Southern Rhone. The Domaine was originally built as a fortified farmhouse by the Knights Templar in the 12th Century, and has passed through various hands, including time spent as both a Benedictine and Dominican monastery (always with attached vineyards) before being partially ruined during the White Terror in the 18th Century.

The Domaine and surrounding vineyards were bought by Bernard Boyer in 1989, in search of a more relaxed life. Ably assisted by his wife and son, Vincent, the Domaine was revitalised and a gradual move towards organic production was started. Tragically, Bernard passed away quite suddenly in 2008. His widow and son have continued with the Domaine and in 2009 the first vintage of La Gloire de Mon Pere was released. So, in memory of Bernard we opened our bottle of La Gloire de Mon Pere, Côtes du Rhône Visan 2011.

It lived up to the anticipation as a full bodied, smooth yet fruity, red which went well with our lamb evening meal. To add to my whisky analogy, this wine spends six months in oak barrels before bottling and this adds to the blackberry flavours to make a very drinkable red.

When choosing the white I was asked if I wanted to be adventurous. “Yes of course - why not!” I said. Upon which I was presented with a bottle whose label reminded me of my childhood reading the Beano. It also comes with a comic entitled “The Adventures of First Drop – that’s wine, folks!”

First DropBut there is nothing comical about this white, which is a very nice blend of 41% Arneis, 33% Chardonnay, & 26% Pinot Grigio. It is supplied by First Drop – John Retsas (the Aussie) and Matt Gant (from Chelmsford) – who started making wine together back in 2005, stating ‘a lifelong commitment to making kick arse booze... wines with flavour and texture, and a splash of funk... eclectic varieties from unique vineyards in the great regions of the Barossa, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale... wines to drink, not just appreciate’.

Although, despite an Australian influence, many of their wines use Mediterranean grape varieties generally not associated with Australia.

So we complemented our fish casserole with a bottle of First Drop ‘A Game of Two Halves’ White 2014. It is a very easy drinking, crisp, citrusy and thirst-quenching fruity white with strong apple notes giving lots of flavour to complement the food.

My spirit of adventure was well rewarded. All in all, a couple of bottles of wine that are both as good as their well-known Chateauneuf and Sancerre counterparts, but which don’t attract the same price tag. Well worth the time taken to taste and review and my thanks must also go to my partner, Clare, who so ably joined me in the process.